A&S alumnus helps create vision for national monument to LGBTQ2S+ community

June 26, 2020 by Michael McKinnon – A&S News

To celebrate Pride Month, we are recognizing the achievements and experiences of the A&S LGBTQ2S+ community and — as allies and community members alike — we are working to build on a more welcoming, inclusive and representative community.

A planned monument in Ottawa to Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ community has links to the 1981 bathhouse raids in Toronto and a Faculty of Arts & Science alumnus arrested in them. 

Ron Rosenes, who earned his master’s degree in Slavic languages and literatures from U of T in 1971, was one of 36 men convicted — of the more than 300 arrested — in the raids, the largest single arrest in Toronto history at the time. The $35 fine he received was insignificant compared to the shame he and others felt as their names were read in court and dragged through the press, he recalls.  

Thanks to advocacy work since by Rosenes and others, outdated bawdy-house laws were repealed in 2019. 

In 2017, Rosenes was invited by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Ottawa for the federal government’s apology to those who had lived through another dark time in Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ community, the purge of federal civil servants and members of the armed forces that began in the 1950s and lasted for decades. 

Rosenes is now working with a group that includes survivors of the purge and the raid to create a vision for an LGBTQ2S+ national monument. The proposed home — an expansive lawn near the National Archives in downtown Ottawa — allows the group to dream big. 

“What a great opportunity this has turned out to be,” says Rosenes. “Although the purge represents a very dark moment in Canadian history, many Canadians are unaware it happened. The monument must  commemorate more than just the purge; it should and will memorialize the discrimination experienced by so many of us over the last half-century. It gives us even more reason to create a space and a monument with the power to remind us of attitudes that prevailed at the time, and to celebrate our resilience.” 

Expected by 2024, the monument will offer a space to remember past injustices and to acknowledge the work still ahead, such as in the LGBTQ2S+ trans, Black, Indigenous and racialized communities. 

Rosenes received the Order of Canada in 2014 for his fundraising, activism and advocacy for HIV/AIDS at the local, national and international levels over the past 25 years. He is currently board chair of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, a national organization that works at the intersection of human rights, HIV and the law. The Legal Network is currently challenging anti-sodomy laws in Jamaica and Dominica.

“It’s not about the work I do as an individual,” he says. “It’s about the work we do collectively and in coalition to enable LGBTQ2S+ people in Canada and around the world to be free of unjust laws and to be able to realize our full potential free of homophobia, free of transphobia and free of the trauma these phobias cause. Laws are hard to change. Attitudes are harder still.”